Parents get the message on truancy

6th May 2005 at 01:00
A hi-tech system of contacting parents of absent pupils could have a significant effect on school attendance. Raymond Ross reports on a trial in Glasgow

Lochend Community High, in Easterhouse, used to have attendance figures around 10 per cent below the average in Glasgow. Three years ago, it installed an electronic system which informs parents if their child is absent. Now truancy is on a par with the city average.

"In the first year there was around an 8 per cent rise in attendance and in the past two years it has gone up by 1 or 2 per cent," says Gordon Shaw, the headteacher.

Lochend High is one of the 160 schools in Scotland which are piloting the system. Truancy Call describes its product, which has the same name, as an automatic parent notification system that reduces the administrative burden on schools by allowing them to implement first-day contact with parents of truants via email, text messaging and direct voice calling.

The system continues to try to make contact until the parent has provided a reason for the child's absence. If the first contact number given is for a mobile phone and it is not answered or is switched off, the system automatically tries the parent's land line and it will attempt to communicate every 15 minutes until 8pm if there is no response.

Truancy Call does not require any new computer or telephone equipment to be installed. It can be operated through a secure website or interface directly with the school's information system.

The school prefers direct voice calling to text messaging, as it tends to get a more immediate response. All messages contain instructions to parents on how to reply at no cost to themselves.

"Without Truancy Call I could probably contact about 20 parents a day at most. With it I can contact up to 70 if need be," says Steve Frampton, Lochend Learning Community's education liaison officer (formerly the school attendance officer).

"For me it's a very welcome system but I'd rather name it Absence Call, because on first contact with parents it's often an absence we're discussing. An initial absence does not establish truancy.

"The big advantage is that pupils who might think of truanting for half a day, or even a single period, know they run the risk of their parents finding out the same day. It's a huge deterrent and a big, big plus in my job," he says.

"If we were to lose Truancy Call altogether, attendance would begin to fall within a week. Within a month the fall would probably be quite dramatic and within six months it could plummet."

The school still has a hard core of non-attenders who have to be dealt with by its multi-agency school attendance council, says Mr Shaw. "Truancy Call is not an alternative to our established procedures but is part of our overall strategy."

Truancy Call has little effect on parentally condoned truancy, which can occur as pupils near school-leaving age. However, most Lochend High parents are highly appreciative of the system, not only for attendance reasons but for the general safety of their children.

"The system is only as good as the data fed in, so we need accurate and up-to-date contact numbers," says Mr Shaw. "Sometimes there are blips. With the wrong information we have placed the occasional call to Essex or the like."

The direct contact with parents is also good for communication in general and can throw up problems to be picked up on by pupil support, he says.

Lochend High, which has 52 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals, was commended for "the commitment of staff to the care and welfare of pupils and the high quality of pastoral care" by school inspectors in their report published on Tuesday.

Call Parents is another Truancy Call system with operates in the same fashion but as an information scheme which can be used to tell parents about everything from school trips, parents' nights and exam diets to reminding them that pupils will need to bring their PE kits to school on a certain day. In short, it over-rides pupil failure to deliver school information home. Lochend High hopes to roll out Truancy Call and Call Parents to its associated primaries soon. Truancy Call also offers Text Someone, a service which allows pupils to report bullying at any

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